ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Information on Monday decried the absence of the information minister at its meetings and rejected the national advertisement policy draft placed before the committee.

Committee chair Senator Faisal Javed said at the meeting, which met at Parliament House to discuss the policy draft, said one major flaw in the policy was that it had merged electronic and print media.

“Many things will not move ahead without government advertisements, and they are essential for media houses as well,” Senator Javed said.

Committee raises a number of concerns regarding national advertisement policy draft before turning it down

The senators put forward a number of complaints, asking how the government will determine advertisement rates for the media and how it would deal with production houses without involving advertising agencies.

Senators also said that advertising agencies add value to concepts, which the policy makes no mention of.

In addition to committee members, the chair – who is from the PTI – also expressed concern regarding the continuous absence of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry from committee meetings.

“We are to discuss an important agenda item – the national advertisement policy – as a large number of jobs are linked to this policy while members also have many queries regarding the draft policy,” Senator Javed said.

The committee turned down the policy and directed information ministry officials to present a new draft.

Senator Javed added that the committee expects that “the government will not approve any advertisement policy without taking the Senate information committee into confidence”.

The committee was told the government had released Rs86 billion worth of advertisements to print and electronic media in 2016-17 and Rs81.6m worth of advertisements in 2017-18.

Complaints were also registered by senators Mohammad Ali Saif and Usman Kakar regarding derogatory remarks about Pakhtuns in some advertisements.

The committee decided that Mr Chaudhry would respond to the concerns about derogatory remarks in Senate.

Senator Rehman Malik also lodged a complaint in which he said the Supreme Court has issued clear directives not to discuss the development of cases under litigation and joint investigation team reports in the media.

“It is not only the matter related to opposition parties, my concern relates to making a mockery of all the politicians,” Senator Malik said, claiming: “It has become a routine matter for media, especially electronic media.”

He demanded regulatory measures to stop the media from ridiculing politicians, saying the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) should do something about it.

Senator Malik also recalled that the committee had previously directed Pemra to submit its legal report regarding certain programmes, which it has not yet received.

“There is a difference between the accused and the convict by the court, but judgements are given by the media and [people] – mostly politicians – are defamed even before inquiries are finalised,” he added.

Other committee members endorsed Senator Malik’s views, after which the committee chair said their concerns were forwarded to the information minister.

“But a legal solution to this concern has not been prepared by the information minister despite the promises he made some four months ago,” Senator Javed said, adding: “I suggest that the members prepare a private member bill in this regard but it would be better if freedom of press is also considered in the bill.”

Senator Kamran Michael said there was no compromise on freedom of the media, but the mockery of politicians in the media had to be contained and the law should prevail in this regard.

Pemra Chairman Saleem Baig responded that after the SC directive, notices were issued to 26 channels, one programme was shut down and six advertisements were released, adding that things have improved in the last six months.

Information Secretary Shafaqat Jalil acknowledged that enforcement is needed and said the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority is being established to streamline the matter.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019